It Is Time to Wake Up to the Struggle of the Iranian People | Opinion

The indifference of the West to momentous events in Iran is striking. Even as protests have broken out across the Islamic Republic, they have largely been ignored by the press and policymakers.

This wasn't always the case. The country earned headlines in 2009, before the Arab Spring, when reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was thwarted at the ballot box by hardliner Mahmood Ahmadinejad and his allies in the clerical leadership. The denial of democracy prompted angry voters to protest and stage the largest demonstrations since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Chants like "Death to the dictator!" and "Give us our votes back!" filled the streets. It was an incredibly hopeful moment.

Officials responded by violently suppressing the protesters, arresting, beating, and shooting them. The Western media covered the riots, including the public death of 26-year-old Neda Agha Soltan, as the media moved on and governments around the world failed to stand with the Iranian people. The despotic leadership in Tehran snuffed out the protests and exterminated any sense of hope.

Iran price rise
Iranians work at a food store in Tehran on May 13, 2021, as prices on basic goods soar. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in cities across Iran to protest the government's decision to raise the prices of essential goods, state media reported AFP via Getty Images

Conditions have deteriorated drastically. Today, an estimated 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and many Iranians are making unimaginable choices. They have turned to theft, prostitution, drug addiction or trafficking, the abandonment or sale of their children, and even the organ trade. They know that money earned from sanctions relief, natural resources, and their hard labor is invested in terrorism and proxy wars by the regime.

Masses of Iranians across dozens of cities are protesting these conditions, chanting slogans against their government and its tired policies. Rather than "Death to America," today they cry "Our enemy is here, they lie when they blame America," or "The revolution of '79 is the source of today's poverty," and many more fierce calls of resistance. These chants lose their impact and style when translated into English, but that doesn't make them any the less powerful or important.

The list of abuses against Iran's citizens is enormous. It includes widespread public executions; a penal system that involves amputation of limbs; the recent legalization of polygamy and child marriage; the regular execution of gay men; systemic persecution of women; institutionalized discrimination against minorities, and more.

But there is hope. Daring citizen journalists like Hossein Ronaghi have used social media, blog posts and even outlets like Clubhouse to tell their stories. Since the Islamic Republic controls the media and aggressively practices censorship, these ordinary individuals have taken extraordinary risks to share their accounts. Their bravery cannot be overstated.

It is vital to see and understand the persistence of these protests and to put pressure on the regime. Now is not the time to relieve sanctions, even if high prices have made Iran's oil is more valuable than before.

The activists should serve as an inspiration to all global citizens who value human rights and democracy. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "riot is the language of the unheard." It is time for the Iranian people to be heard.

Born and raised in Iran, Marjan Keypour Greenblatt is a human rights activist and founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities. Follow her at @MarjanKg

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.